the ultimate carbonara

authentic carbonara

i recently discovered with my great surprise a most fantastic italian food blog discussing with erudition and humour about as different subjects as molecular gastronomy and carbonara.

dario, the author, provided me with bucketloads of food for thought, inspiration and some photos that i am going to shamelessly ...erm..."borrow" for this post.

1. what are the origins of carbonara?

the quick answer is: nobody seems to know.
many think it came from loggers who went to make coal (carbone) on the mountains of central Italy bringing only a pasta, eggs, pancetta and pepper.. but there are absolutely no written traces of a dish called "carbonara" anytime before WW2. hence the theory that carbonara was invented by some starving roman citizen who got creative with bacon and powdered eggs distributed by allied troops.. (if that was true a lot of dodgy italian restaurants could rightly claim they make the original carbonara... :-( )

2.how to make a perfect carbonara

this is guanciale, or cured pork cheek, thicker and tastier than pancetta or bacon. it should be available in some authentic italian delis but if you can't find it you can always make your own. alternatively some decent pancetta or bacon will do but then you'll have to downgrade your carbonara from "ultimate" to "decent". warning! pre-sliced bacon is a big no-no. buy it in one 1cm thick piece from your butcher and make your own cubes/sticks.

gently fry the diced guanciale in a non stick pan until the fat gets translucent and the (traces of) meat brown slightly. you won't need to add anything to the pan: you don't need either more fat or more flavour so put away that garlic and - god forbid!- that onion.

by now your pan of salted water is boiling so put the spaghetti in, stir and move on to the next step.

you will need an egg yolk per person in a bowl large enough to later contain the cooked pasta. add your grated cheese - pecorino and/or parmesan- and mix the two together along with a generous amount of black pepper.

now the make-or-break stage.
it is up to the heat of the pasta to cook the egg to just the right degree of creaminess: not enough gives you a runny mess, too much a not-so-nice omelet...

the best results are obtained by incorporating some of the cooking water: I drain the pasta as usual but without the extra shaking of the colander, dario suggests to retrieve the pasta from the pan with a fork.

add the fried guanciale to the pasta and egg mixture and stir well to ensure an even distribution of the condiment and the guanciale cubes.
as if...
twenty five years of experience have taught me that whatever your efforts and your skill there will be always a considerable amount of extra guanciale at the bottom of the mixing bowl and this is the reason why you should serve yourself last...

go on.. you know you deserve it..

3. cream? what cream??